I have written about my birth into the world of flamenco. I have written about what it means to me and the special place it holds in my life.
But something came before flamenco – a dance that filled my life as a child. A dance that gave me an early appreciation for cultural traditions and history. A dance as beautiful as its story. Having just recently returned from visiting with family in Hawai’i, I am reminded of its importance. So, this post is dedicated to my roots in the art form of hula dancing.
My earliest memories of dance are of the hula. And I was not alone. I had a partner. Some of you may know this, some may not; I am an identical twin. My sister and I are three minutes apart in age and being a twin has held some interesting and fun memories. The hula is one of the strongest ones I have.
My mother set about instructing my sister and I in learning the hula in the most serious of fashions. I can recall this from as young as five years old. Our training was not only in the successful portrayal of this art form so interwoven in the fabric of Hawai’i but also in her absolute conviction of presenting a mirror image. Yes, the twin thing! My mother had us practice for hours and hours to ensure my sister and I were moving exactly together, at every moment, to appear as one fluid entity.
I did not mind this at all. As a child, it was fun and even a bit playful to have this unique quality as part of our hula experience. As we grew older, we learned more dances and progressed to learning a few of the musical instruments and implements of hula; ‘ukelele, ‘uli-‘uli’s (feathered gourd rattles), and pu’ili (split bamboo rhythm sticks).
In elementary school in Hawai’i, we traveled to the other islands to perform hula and ‘ukelele with our classmates. When we moved to the mainland (South Carolina), my mother entered us into talent shows and arranged our performances for community events, schools, and private parties. As you can well imagine, hula in South Carolina was an anomaly, much less performed by identical twins! As high school came around, my sister and I were called upon to dance for school events on numerous occasions.
As adulthood approached and my sister and I began to lead our separate lives, the hula took more of a backseat. Other pastimes entered my life, but it always remained looming in the shadows, re-emerging when asked to teach a group of children at a summer camp or pre-school, or when I, myself, had children and found I had the natural desire to pass it down to them. This eventually morphed into my daughters and I performing the hula for heritage month events at my workplaces, which we still do all these years later. More recently, I was a guest artist for a local event here in Louisville that showcased hula and bellydance students and did an impromptu hula at a flamenco party.
I realize this post is a bit long-winded, but it is imperative to talk about the influence and consistency hula has in my life. It is integral to the dancer I am today. While flamenco, at first, seemed similar in the hand gestures, body posture, and interpretive style of hula, I have come to learn there really is a great deal of difference. For example, I have to keep my natural tendency of hip movement quiet for flamenco, my graceful hands of hula must do full circles at the wrist for flamenco flores, the common cheerful expression or smile of hula has little to no place on the face of a flamenco dancer, and the subtle sensuality and consistent rhythm of the hula is replaced by sharp, precise, and sometimes aggressive movements in flamenco. Don’t even get me started on how vastly different the footwork between hula and flamenco is! Hula is done in bare feet, for goodness sake, which can hardly compare to the nailed, sturdy, heeled-shoes of flamenco and their accompanying firm pronunciation on the dance floor.
There are a couple of physical elements of hula that are the same in flamenco; dancing with slightly bent knees for better balance, being able to separate and move individually the top from the lower part of the body, and the rule of not bopping up and down when you dance. This common ground has been a benefit to me.
That said, I have wondered many times before, how in the world can my background in hula dancing help me at all in transitioning to flamenco when it is so structurally different. The answer has surprised me and can be found, not in the physical movements of each dance, but in the spiritual and emotional connection between dance and dancer.
Both dances require an unyielding appreciation for a cultural art form. Both dances demand focus and dedication in learning that culture. Both dances have a rich history that brings forth a deep desire to do it justice and share it with others. And both dances offer a unique opportunity to be expressive and to “feel” the music. Probably, for me, what my hula has enabled me to do in my flamenco dancing most is enrich my soul. I always have and always will have a special place in my heart for hula and will continue sharing that with people whenever possible. But now, I have this new and different excitement coursing through my veins. Maybe, it is the natural course of getting older to seek a more aggressive and passionate way of expression.
Mahalo to all the people that nurtured my hula experiences and for what it has given me in life and as a craft. Gracias to my current teachers and fellow students for allowing me to continue my love of dance and search for self-expression with flamenco.
Please enjoy the slideshow below with a few snapshots of my hula life.